Tank related question - open breech?

I am not of the military ilk so please forgive me if the terminology is wrong regarding this question.

I once saw a picture taken from the inside of a modern tank which showed the breech open between loading rounds and it was possible to see up the barrel and to the outside.

I was wondering if it is the case when reloading there is a period between rounds that it would be possible for an extraordinarily lucky shot to enter the barrel and the interior of the tank? How would this work on a heavily NBC contaminated battlefield, surely if a tank is ‘buttoned up’ nothing can get in?

With all the lead flying around on a battlefield has this ever happened?

It would be particularily ironic if another tank got a shot down the barrel at this point (as in the Hollywood movie trope where a sniper shoots an enemy sniper down the scope of his rifle).

Need answer fast! :wink:

Some movie there is a scene maybe Terminator where a SKYlaser Raygun goes right down the barrel of a ground tank. Fried it like a marshmellow in a blast furnace.

A tank is not airtight. It’s NBC protection comes from overpressure not being sealed tight.

Yes there is a time when the breech is open and you can look straight out the barrel. Someone shooting down the barrel would not be my biggest worry.

I have heard of enemy tank (or anti-tank) rounds landing close enough to the muzzle (or barrel) of a tank’s gun to demolish it, sometimes rather like an exploding cigar, but for a round to traverse the length of a barrel and detonate inside the tank … it sounds like something Sgt Rock and the Combat-Happy Joes of Easy Company might have been able to pull off.

For small arms fire, you’d pretty much have to stick your rifle or Tommy gun in the muzzle … this was theoretically possible on some German tanks with short-barreled guns, but they were equipped with machine guns to defend against infantry attacks.

Thanks, that makes sense.

Sure, but it is possible then, which is all that I was asking.

I recognise that its extraordinarily unlikely but if somethings possible then somewhere, sometime, in the history of tank warfare its probably happened. I wasn’t talking about someone doing it on purpose but a random bullet going down the barrel at the moment of vulnerability.

But if I ever find myself fighting a tank with nothing more than a handgun and a positive mental attitude I’ll bear this in mind. :smiley:

Carlos Hathcock actually accomplished that in Vietnam.

One thing worth mentioning is that most tanks also have a bore evacuator, which blasts hot propellant gas out of the gun barrel in order to prevent it from leaking back into the crew compartment when the loader opens the breech. I doubt this would be enough force to deflect an incoming shell, but it would make it almost impossible to (for example) jump onto the tank and stuff a hand grenade down the barrel; you’d be deafened and blinded and then you’d have your hand toasted.

Also, Russian tanks typically have an autoloader; I’m not sure if the breech would be open for longer than a split-second in that case. Does raise the question of what would happen if you did stuff a hand grenade into a tank barrel with a high-explosive shell primed and ready to go. Would it detonate the shell? Presumably the explosion wouldn’t damage the barrel any more than the explosion from the shell’s propellant, and a HEAT warhead would discharge its blast down the tank barrel. Dunno, I’ve never had to fight tanks hand-to-hand.

You can’t fight tanks hand-to-hand, anyway. They don’t have hands. Just one large jutting… thing.

Even in a tank without an autoloader, the time that the breech is open during a combat engagement is very short - basically the time the loader needs to re-load a new shell into the breech and lock it closed…maybe 5-15 seconds. Tankers don’t like to run around in combat without something to shoot already loaded into the gun because you might need to fire it at something in a big hurry.

In the movie The Beast (rather good little film BTW) about a Russian tank crew in Afghanistan this sort of happens at the end. They avoid being destroyed by an RPG because by chance it impacts the end of the main gun barrel.

I’ve watched that one actually, well most of it, I had to fast-forward the bit where the Afghan is crushed by the tank treads. I have no idea of it was as gory as I imagined it would be but I didn’t watch it to find out.

But yes, good movie.

Thanks for the answers everyone!

The wiki article doesn’t mention Hathcock shooting down the barrel of a tank, do you have another cite ? Are you thinking of the incident where Hathcock shot down the scope of another sniper ?

What would happen if you just shoved a handful of small rocks down the barrel?
It seems like this would cause some damage…

Realizing that this is a bit of a zombie thread, the movie (which I’ll third as an excellent film - as an aside I believe the T-62 used in the film was borrowed from Israel) demonstrates the extreme implausibility of this happening the way the OP is looking for. A HEAT warhead such as that on an RPG will detonate on contact with the barrel. A kinetic energy round would have to have the barrel of the enemy tank pointed directly at it, the breech open, and somehow perfectly bull’s-eye a 100-125mm target. The tiniest amount of deflection from the two tank barrels pointing directly at each other and the incoming round isn’t going to be travelling down the empty barrel of the enemy tank; the barrel of the enemy tank will become in effect several feet to several yards worth of additional armor to be penetrated before reaching the chewy center of the tank depending on the length of the barrel and the angle at which it is hit.

“One Shot, One Kill,” and “Marine Sniper” both make reference to the incident. IIRC, Hathcock stalked a particularly unpleasant NVA sniper for several days in an extended counter-sniper engagement. After exchanging pot-shots several times, he saw the glint of the sun flash off the opposing sniper’s scope and fired a round directly through the scope.

Been a few years since I’ve read either book, and they appear to be missing from my shelf at the moment, but that’s a (reasonably) accurate synopsis.

In this video from the Syrian civil war around two minutes in a rebel kills a tank by running up to it and dunking a grenade down the barrel. The first time (around a minute in) it goes off in the barrel and does nothing, but the second time cooks off the tank’s ammo.

Ignoring the insane timing of the grenade going through the open breech it seems incredible the guy gets so close without being mowed down by the coax machine gun. Out of ammo? They didn’t notice him among the chaos? That crew must’ve broken several mirrors, stepped on every crack, and walked through a ladder store for that to happen.

Nothing on that tank was moving and it was all alone. I’m assuming it was disabled.

The trajectory of any round fired is an arc, not a straight line, and this includes small arms.

On leaving the weapon it rises slightly and then drops, the amount depending on the range and the ammunition .

I would have thought that a round that entering the muzzle of a tanks main armament would ricochet on the insides of the barrel even if fired at very close range.

But thats just my guess.

It can happen. An after action report describing a Panther tank in Italy which had been knocked out by a Canadian Sherman Firefly (armed with the British 17-pdr gun) stated:

The full report is quoted in the “Firefly” section about 2/3 down the Sherman tank page on the Canadian Soldiers site.